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The Scarlet & Black

Admin address social class awareness

By Steve Yang

Tim Burnette ’19 published “An Open Letter to President Kington,” addressing troubling statements made by President Kington regarding social class at Grinnell, in the Grinnell Underground Magazine (GUM) two weeks ago. In response to the article, SGA released a survey concerning social class awareness at Grinnell on Sept. 19. Burnette’s letter, which was also privately sent to President Kington, triggered an outpouring of responses from current Grinnellians and alumni and resulted in immediate notification regarding the coverage of health care provisions at the College.

Burnette, who identifies as a low-income and first-generation student, wrote that Kington’s claim that “all students care about health” was offensive to low-income students for whom health issues are less pressing than financial concerns.

“You [President Kington] and the administration created this situation when you marginalize low-income students on campus,” Burnette wrote in the GUM. He also shared a personal memory of his mother’s struggle in “[putting] her health on the backburner.” Burnette declined to comment for this article.

After the publication of the letter, President Kington reached out to Burnette, commending him for his bravery and proposing an opportunity to find solutions for the problems he raised. For example, the College clarified health insurance coverage was in fact available in response to Burnette’s recollection of a friend who had to pay out-of-pocket for medicine that was not clearly covered by the College’s insurance, an intense source of stress and financial strain.

“It turns out that you are covered regardless of whether you have the card or not. It’s retroactive, … just because you don’t have the card yet doesn’t mean you’re not covered. That was a big misconception on campus,” said Bailey Dann ’17, SGA Vice President of Student Affairs, who has been working alongside Burnette to present socioeconomic class awareness.

For Dann, who also identifies as a low-income and first generation student, Burnette’s activism was both a personal issue and something that needed a public voice. She worked with Burnette to develop a tangible plan of action that could be reviewed by administrators.

“My experience meeting with admins is that it’s important to have a set goal, a set list of issues and goals and possible solutions to communicate, and so Tim designed a survey which was then released on the SGA website,” Dann said. “We aggregated data from identifiable names, used that as a report to submit to President Kington. During our meeting with President Kington and [Chief of Staff and Title IX Coordinator] Angela Voos, we presented selected quotes from the surveys.”

Dann noted numerous considerations that low-income students can be particularly sensitive to, such as difficulty buying textbooks, food insecurity over breaks and struggling to afford a visit home.

“You hear about these issues through the grapevine, [and] it’s not okay for us to just be talking about it,” she said. “I’m here to let students know they’re not alone and that I support them.”

Dann mentioned that another meeting is scheduled soon, and that she hopes more awareness will be raised after President Kington hosts convocation on the low-income student experience on Oct. 19. Kington will present research from both within Grinnell and peer institutions as to how these issues are handled at other colleges.

“Bureaucracy is a pain in the ass, to be frank, and it does take time, but we are constantly working to make sure that things happen as soon as possible,” Dann said.

Dann added that if a similar situation should arise in the future, students should never be afraid of reaching out, either to her or Toby Baratta ’17, SGA diversity and outreach coordinator.

“If a student has a complaint about a faculty member saying something inappropriate or insensitive, they’re a great resource to reach out to,” Dann noted.

Editors Note: Angela Voos could not be reached for comment, but this article will be updated on

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